3 Lessons I’ve Learned during My Health Journey

Let me start by saying, I am so fed up with seeing posts and ads that make people feel like they have to restrict their diet or cut out all “junk food”. I’m tired of seeing “x number of calories burning” workout videos.

  • “You shouldn’t eat that”.
  • “You should do this workout to burn off extra calories”.
  • “You should workout harder to earn your meals”.

This type of rhetoric is what encourages guilt and cultivates a culture of disordered eating and body insecurity. This is why I have a complicated relationship with the fitness/health industry. Let’s be real – there is a lot of filth in the mix, and I’m not here for it. Nope. Nada.

For years, messages like these perpetuated the notion that I had to earn meals and fueled my guilt and anxiety centered on nutrition and my body. I’d restrict myself, then came the holidays or any major events, and I’d stuff myself silly. Then, the guilt would settle in and make me feel like I had to restrict myself further… hence, I’d cycle through binge eating and restricting until my next New Year’s resolutions. As you can imagine, I had an ambivalent relationship with food.

3 Lessons I’ve Learned

Over these past two years, I’ve learned 3 important lessons that have shaped my perception of nutrition and fitness in relation to my body.

  1. Mindset Matters: How I view myself and how I treat my body are closely linked.
  2. My Desires and Needs Are Relevant: Greater self awareness of my needs and wants impact my actions
  3. Willpower Is Not Enough: Relying on high levels of willpower is neither sustainable nor realistic

Mindset Matters

I can’t stress this enough: how you view yourself affects how you treat yourself. If you constantly believe that you are a failure… then how well do you think you treat your physical body? Subconsciously, we’ve all developed some kind of mindset, whether that is a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. According to Carol Dweck, a fixed mindset describes people who view their traits as unchangeable. In a growth mindset, people believe that their abilities can develop overtime through effort and hard work.

Fixed Mindset

  • “I can’t control my cravings, so I’m just going to eat whatever I want”
  • “I’m going to gain weight anyways, so who cares”
  • “I always fail so there’s no point in trying”
  • “It’s too hard. I give up”

Growth Mindset

  • “What are ways to satisfy my cravings without derailing my progress?”
  • “What can I learn from this so I can improve?”
  • “How can I plan ahead to reach my goals?”
  • “What can I learn from this set back?”

If you find yourself leaning more towards a fixed mindset, no worries. Awareness is the first step towards growth. When a negative thought enters your mind, practice speaking growth statements aloud. Remember, you are never truly stuck in life; you can always grow from wherever you are! It’s a a matter of whether you are going to make the choice to grow.

My Desires and Needs Are Relevant

I used to believe that I had to follow an exact meal plan and fitness regimen. If I wanted to successfully lose weight, I thought I needed to slash my calories in half, limit the kinds of food I ate, and constantly do high intensity workouts (or at-least that’s what many fitness companies promote so they can steal all your monies, heh). I remember a time when I was eating around 1,200 calories and constantly feeling hungry, fatigued, and cranky. Though my body was clearly in crisis mode, I ignored all the signals. I fell victim to that trap and suffered some physical and mental consequences as a result.

Now, I am much more aware of my body’s signals and hunger cues. I honor my cravings, eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full. Your dietary and fitness regimen is going to differ from mine depending on a multitude of factors:

  • daily schedule
  • goals
  • circumstances
  • foods you respond well to
  • foods you dislike
  • etc.

Take time to reflect on how you’re feeling, how you respond to certain foods and what you enjoy eating. Any nutrition regimen can be successful if it works well in your lifestyle. You can still honor your desires and needs without restricting your diet. Whatever nutrition plan you follow, ask yourself if it meets the following criteria:

  • Honors your nutritional desires and needs
  • Doesn’t compromise your mental or physical health
  • Sustainable in your lifestyle

If you find that you are forcing yourself to eat a certain way, are not satisfied, or constantly yo-yo dieting, something needs to change.

Willpower Is Not Enough

Thinking you have to rely on willpower makes you feel unsuccessful from the get go. And honestly, it’s rare for someone to have high levels of willpower at all times. It’s not realistic.

Under certain situations, willpower can be of use. It can help you when you initially start something new. It can stop you from making an impulsive purchase or a poor decision. But if you’re constantly having to rely on your willpower to sustain your lifestyle, you’re most likely going to exhaust the amount you have. Then what? Do you just give up? Or wait for a reset (aka until you make your New Year resolutions)?

Instead of relying on willpower, think about making small, gradual changes to your life. While drastic changes sound more appealing in terms seeing quick progress, if you don’t foresee yourself keeping up with those changes for a year or more, then you’ll find yourself reverting back to your old, undesirable habits. The key is to make minimal, specific adjustments to your environment and lifestyle to help you reach your goal in a sustainable manner. Here a few examples that have worked for me:

  • Keeping my snacks out of plain sight, stored in a high kitchen shelf
  • Setting out workout clothes, shoes, and a water bottle the night before my workout
  • Planning my meals ahead of time, even if it’s just one planned meal a day
  • Creating a section in my house dedicated to my home workouts

These minor habits don’t sound as awe-inspiring as drastically cutting out all processed foods or running 5 miles a day (which I don’t recommend), but they are habits I know I can follow long term. Don’t underestimate the power of building small habits! Eventually, you’ll see the payoff.

Regardless of where you are starting in your health journey, you certainly can implement lasting, sustainable habits that work in your lifestyle. You are not obliged to have everything figured out from the onset. Life is about making mistakes, going through trial and error, and growing from your experiences (the reason why I’m a huge fan of adopting a growth mindset). Give yourself room to learn and move on from setbacks or challenges. The more you choose to embrace, the more resilient of a person you will become. Trust me, if I can do it, you DEFINITELY can.

In health and confidence,

Esther